For many, the recent moves to make Scottish education LGBT-inclusive have been so profound that they were, just a few years ago, entirely unimaginable: schools have Pride groups and LGBTQ-associations, curriculums are gradually being improved, and parents now overwhelming support inclusive education.

But some people’s experiences have been different. Today, The Herald speaks to two transgender young people – sixteen year old Skye and eighteen year old Link – about their time in the education system, the difficulties they have faced, and what they want to change.


“My schooling experience was hell on Earth unfortunately,” says Link, an eighteen-year-old university student from the north east of Scotland. “I experienced a lot of transphobic bullying from peers. When you would report it to guidance, or mention it in PSE, the teachers were almost on their side. They weren’t endorsing it, but I'll never forget my guidance teachers, someone who's meant to help in these scenarios, saying that I had to expect people to be curious and ask questions. That was it. She just brushed off as that.”

Those comments make uncomfortable reading in the first country to embed LGBT-inclusive education, but they’re not unique – in fact, for all the progress that Scotland has made, they’re not even necessarily rare.

Skye tells me about a specific incident in which they were subjected to verbal and physical abuse on their way home from school. Having reported it to teachers, they were told that the pupils would be spoken and that, if they did it again, their parents could be called.

“You should phone the parents anyway,” Skye says. “It’s assault. It’s a hate crime.”

The different between inclusive rhetoric and exclusive reality isn’t theoretical for them. They live it.

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Both feel that education is what is needed, and are supportive of the changes that have taken place in Scottish schools. Link says that most of their negative experiences don’t come from “pure hatred” but rather from “ignorance and a lack of education”. So progress has certainly been made, but we still have a long way to go.

“I want to have more inclusion within the school curriculum about LGBTQ+ people,” Skye says, “and I think that can reduce the amount of discrimination in society by a tremendous amount by normalising it. Instead of alienating people having them included, and having them feel included, and heard, would make the world a better place.”

“Back in S1 we learned about historical figures and they talked about Alan Turing. We heard that he was a famous mathematician who saved a lot of people, but they didn't mention that he was LGBT at all. I found out myself and we had to do individual power points and I was determined to get that into mine!

“And something I realised recently is that in English we're learning poems by Carol Ann Duffy and I didn't know until recently was that she's actually LGBT as well.”

Undoing this sort of censorship, and making LGBT people truly visible within the curriculum is a key part of attempts to deliver a truly inclusive education system, but Skye and Link also believe that teachers need much more training and support in order for that dream to be realised.

“I think it really is a case of we have to do something and it's almost like the teachers are deer caught in headlights,” Link tells me. “They don't know what to do. They're not educated. They're just told they have to do it so they panic and they throw together something that’s just not representative and if someone does have the strength to stand up and say something and try and correct the teachers, we just get met with backlash and annoyance.”

“I think it's more a case of they just don't know enough there. It's all great and well when we have the TIE campaign and stuff like that, we're moving forward, but we don't actually do enough to educate the teachers and that's where all the issues come because at the end of the day the teachers can't teach something they don't know.”

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Developing and expanding teacher training programmes will certainly make a difference, but it will also take time – there are, after all, more than 50,000 of them. What would make things better in the short or even immediate term?

“I guess not being in that spotlight,” Link suggests, “because it feels like your whole existence is boiled down to one word, and that one word is 'trans'. That's the first thing teachers think of when they see you. That's the first thing that comes to anyone's mind. People worry: Am I doing something right? Am I doing something wrong? Is my job at risk if I speak to this student?”

“And it's never: ‘Oh there's Link - he loves music, or he's studying biology.’ It's: ‘There's Link, the trans kid.’”

And yet despite all of that, both Link and Skye still seem to be hopeful for the future.

“LGBT people are always going to be hopeful. We've got a hold on to that. That's like one of the only things we control - that hope that the future will be better. And we're not on our own, but we need help. Even though we're going on the right lines now the way things are going with the political debates and all the stuff in the news, we could very quickly end up back where we were 30 years ago.” Link

“We need a lot more people in positions of power to stand up for the right thing rather than just staying silent and watching from the shadows,” Skye adds. “We need the support of people who can make change.”

Link agrees with that position, and says that continued progress is “completely dependent on people supporting us”. But support needs to be more than just a principle – action is required as well.

“I'm not saying they have to say something every single day, or be out rallying in the streets, but if someone says something transphobic they just need to have the courtesy to say that's not all right. They need to actively support because there's too much passive support – people are saying ‘oh, yeah, I agree with that’ but they don't actually do anything about it and that doesn't help us get anywhere.”

He also believes that asking questions is important.

“You know, when they're afraid, when they don't understand, just saying: ‘I don't understand this. Can you please explain it to me?’ Just asking a respectful question - that's kind of what needs to be normalised.

“If enough people are brave enough to do that then I think we can be hopeful.”